Interview on photo-reporters’ case with Sergey Chirikov, EPA – Moscow bureau

Sergey Chirikov: “We are ready to prove everybody that our photographer’s activities were not criminal at all”

Eka Kevanishvili, Radio “Liberty”

When covering the case of the photo-reporters detained on July 7 for espionage, media outlets often mention terms Stringer and Pool whose meanings are not completely clear for the society. Everybody speaks about phone-conversations published on TV by the Georgian MIA; in them Zurab Kurtsikidze – photo-reporter of the European Press-Photo Agency talks initially with Irakli Gedenidze – personal photographer of the President of Georgia and then with Giorgi Abdaladze – photo-reporter of the Newspaper “Alia” and Foreign Ministry of Georgia. Kurtsikidze is asking them to send their bank requisites to the EPA head office in Frankfurt in order to transfer the honoraries for their photos. Moscow is also mentioned in the case materials because one of the bureaus of the EPA is located there.

Radio “Liberty” interviewed the head photographer of the Russian Bureau of the European Press-Photo Agency Sergey Chirikov:

Radio “Liberty” asked: Who is “Stringer” and how does he work? Sergey Chirikov answered: Stringer is a freelance photo-reporter for concrete agency or media-organization; she/he shoots photos time-by-time, writes articles and sends them to the media-organization. Chirikov explained that every agency worldwide has stringers, because, as a rule, regional bureaus have only several contracted photo-reporters who cannot manage to shoot everything:

EPA’s regional bureaus have only several contracted photo-reporters. Very often, many facts occur simultaneously and the contracted photographers cannot shoot everything; so the agencies ask stringers for help, who had managed to shoot the concrete events. So term – Stringer- is our professional slang and means freelance photographer. Everybody has stringer; it is impossible [for media organizations] to work without them. For example, a ferry sank in Russia. We did not have our photographer there so we got in touch with the people, who managed to shoot or could shoot the fact because he was close to the scene at that moment.”

So-called “Pool” is also a professional term in journalistic circle. Sergey Chirikov clarified with the Radio “Liberty” that the term has two meanings. It is group of journalists who closely cooperate with the administration of either president or prime-minister or parliament. Consequently, there are so-called parliament’s pool, president’s pool and prime-minister-s pool. For example, the president’s pool unites photographers or journalists who represent various media-outlets, TV-Companies, newspapers, photo-agencies or radio-stations who actively highlight the activities of the president and all events connected with the president.

Pool has second meaning too –a photo. Sometimes, the space near the scene of particular event is very restricted and every photo-reporter cannot approach it. In similar case, they say “we are shooting with the support of pool” that means one photo-reporter is shooting the event and gives the photos to other agencies.”

As for the money transfers – how the agency paid the honoraries to photographers and how they cooperated with stringers, Sergey Chirikov underlined that EPA wants the issue to be completely clear to everybody.

“President’s photographer Irakli Gedenidze was independently sending the photos about the activities of the president of Georgia to every agency without our preliminary request and we received a lot of similar photos from him. He actively worked but we could not publish all his photos. Initially, those photos were sent to Moscow Bureau but then we asked Zura to take these photos [from Gedenidze] and send them to our head office in Frankfurt; and he did what we asked.

According to the current system in Georgia, [the same system works in Ukraine,] the Agency paid 20 USD for each photo and Irakli Gedenidze received this sum from us. We were paying him in cash; as far as I know, other agencies transfer money [to stringers]. Except the last money-transfer, last autumn we paid last honorarium to Gedenidze in cash, as far as I remember. We used to send the money to him via Zura and Gedenidze used to confirm the acceptance of the money by signature on the confirmation letter.

We rarely used other photos of Gedenidze except president’s photos. His last photos, which we published, were about the dispersal of the demonstration on May 26. It was his last photos we received and were not about the president’s activities. He assisted us in it; it was very noisy and important political event in Georgia. We do not think we committed crime by publishing these photos. Moreover, everybody was shooting this fact and it was the central event in the country at that moment. We never intend to discredit anybody by publishing the photos about the ongoing events; every journalist is obliged to cover the ongoing events in the country. In 2003, every agency was covering the Rose Revolution according to this principle.”

Sergey Chirikov added the EPA owes some money to Irakli Gedenidze. Chirikov said Gedenidze was not complaining about the fact unlike the head photographer of the Moscow Bureau because the latter was eager to arrange financial system of the agency and to pay the photographers only through bank transfers in future – it is completely transparent and legal form of reimbursement.

“We called Zura and asked to find out whether our stringers preferred to transfer their honorarium to their personal bank accounts. Zurab discussed the issue with his colleagues and said there was no problem. Then we asked him to ask the photographers to send their bank requisites to us. We cooperated with several photo-reporters among them was Giorgi Abdaladze and Irakli Gedenidze; Zura called both of them and the MIA showed those phone conversations to the society. However, we could not see anything criminal in these conversations. He only requested their bank accounts. We received those requisites, attached them to the honorary documents and sent them to our head-office in Frankfurt on July 5; the head office was to send the money to the photo-reporters to those bank accounts. By the way, Gia [Abdaladze] did not send requisites to us; only Irakli Gedenidze did.”

Chirikov said, Zurab Kurtsikidze, contracted photo-reporter of the EPA, used to personally visit Frankfurt where he received the money in advance for his professional activities for the coming year; he did not have national office in Tbilisi and worked from home:

“I do not know the details about financial operations but one thing I exactly know – Zura used to arrive in Frankfurt to receive advance payment for his activities for the following year. It was advance payment for Zura to pay for stringers, for business-leaves and for the office supplies for the local bureau.”

Sergey Chirikov said there is no administrative office of EPA in Moscow. Every employee has contract with Frankfurt. It is easier to get in touch with the journalists of the former soviet republics [for the head office via Moscow bureau] and Chirikov said the Moscow is responsible for covering the ongoing events in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Kazakhstan, but not in every country. Zura Kurtsikidze also shot ongoing events [in the abovementioned countries] and assisted the Moscow office with it.

“We speak one language; Zura badly speaks English and it was more convenient for the Frankfurt office when we [Moscow bureau and Zura Kurtsikidze] had communication with each other. Sometimes, Zura visited Moscow and assisted us in shooting the photos; I also arrived in Tbilisi during the war in August of 2008 and covered the ongoing events together with Zura on the Georgian side. It is coordinated activities of colleagues. As for the rule to send photos, Zura used to send 90% of photos to Frankfurt and he was sending them to Moscow only in emergency situation; sometimes he even asked us to write caption to his photos because he did not have time to do it; but it happened very rarely.”

What is the European Press-Photo Agency going to do? Sergey Chirikov said the editor-in-chief of the Agency Cengiz Seren is in touch with [local] media. At the moment, the Agency is collecting and preparing all necessary documents about money transfers.

“I think, they are getting ready to meet the Georgian MIA. We are ready to prove everybody that the activities of our photo-reporter were not criminal at all and he never acted against the interests of the Georgian state. Just the opposite, the policy of the European Press-Photo Agency is to act only in accordance to the national laws, and for this purpose we always recruit local photo-reporters and not foreigners. The agency trusts them. If we analyze the activities of Zura Kurtsikidze, if you search our website, you will never see any discrediting photos about Georgia on it; just the opposite, he often took photos of religious, public holidays in Georgia; his photos often exposed Georgian traditions and beauty of this country – in fact he was advertizing his country and thus, I cannot believe that Zura could intentionally act against Georgia.”

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